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The next 'digital Natives'

A new Concordia-led partnership aims to equip Aboriginal youth with tools to shape their future
January 25, 2016
By Christian Durand

“The dominant discourse is that Aboriginal people are relics from the past,” says Jason Edward Lewis, a professor in the Department of Design and Computation Arts. “It’s time to actively push back against this narrative.” “The dominant discourse is that Aboriginal people are relics from the past,” says Jason Edward Lewis. “It’s time to actively push back against this narrative.”

Can you imagine what your community will look like in seven generations?

This challenging questions lies at the heart of an exciting new Concordia-led research-creation project meant to encourage and support Indigenous youth — along with their elders — to build a vibrant future.

Recently, a group of Concordia academics, and colleagues from universities and community organizations across Canada, secured a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Partnership Grant. The funds will support the Initiative for Indigenous Futures (IIF), which will provide Aboriginal youth with critical cultural and digital media tools to empower them to craft a destiny of their own choosing.

The timing of the project is particularly pertinent as First Nations, Inuit and Metis youth are the fastest growing demographic in the country according to Statistics Canada.

Principle investigator Jason Edward Lewis, a professor in the Department of Design and Computation Arts, says there is a need to develop multiple visions of Indigenous people’s futures in order to better understand where they need to go today.

“When we look at images of the future in popular culture — like sci-fi movies or video games — Indigenous people are very rarely represented,” he says. “The dominant discourse is that Aboriginal people are relics from the past. It’s time to actively push back against this narrative.”

How it will work

This multidisciplinary project will involve educational organizations, post-secondary institutions, community arts organizations and independent artists and researchers on reserves and in urban areas in five provinces and territories.

Four main components will make up the IIF:

1. Skins Workshops on Aboriginal Storytelling and Digital Media Design

These workshops, designed for Aboriginal youth, provide critical, creative and technical skills within a context of storytelling from their communities. These workshops will enable future generations to be active producers of advanced digital media and help them shape the way they see each other and address the wider culture.

2. Artist and non-artist residencies

Invited guests will spend time at Concordia imagining the future of their communities seven generations from now. One third of the guests will be artists involved in creative production, and the other two thirds of the residents will be drawn from a range of disciplines — governance, health, law, community activism, food sovereignty, etc.

3. Symposium series around the concept of the future imaginary

This series will provide an ongoing forum for a rich interdisciplinary conversation about where Indigenous communities see themselves in five, 10 and 20 generations, and develop strategies to get them there.

4.  Aboriginal New Media Archive

This publicly available online repository of Aboriginal new media practice will serve as a resource for those interested in how Aboriginal artists are using advanced digital technology to discuss, encourage, imagine and empower their communities.

“Taken together, these activities will allow us to explore the cultural, conceptual, creative and technical dimensions of the future imaginary,” says Lewis. “It is about cultivating young Aboriginal people to be fully empowered digital Natives.”

The IIF is also supported through Lewis’ Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation fellowship and his University Research Chair in Computational Media and the Indigenous Future Imaginary.

Partner institutions and organizations include Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning, University of British Columbia-Okanagan’s
Centre for Indigenous Media Arts, imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, Kahnawake Education Center, Kanien'kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center, Kontinónhstats Mohawk Language Custodians Association, MacKenzie Art Gallery, Western Arctic Moving Pictures, and Behaviour Interactive.

Find out more about the Initiative for Indigenous Futures (IIF).


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